Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My Top 10 (25) Albums Of 2005

I listen to a lot of music. It's progressed beyond the point of hobby to mild obsession, or at the very least my primary form of escapism in life (yes, it's *even* superceded alcohol!). There could definitely be worse things, obviously, so I guess I shouldn't be too self-deprecating. However, all this music listening can also get a bit lonely, primarily because a lot of the artists I now listen to are "underground", or "indie", or whatever, so it's not as if I can share my enthusiasm with more than a handful of people. Actually, I'm overstating that, I really don't tend to feel lonely in my listening, more just a need to show other people what I think is new and innovative.

I'm trying to explain, I guess, why I'm making this self-indulgent little list. It's purpose, I hope, will be to expose some of you to some music I thought was wonderful this past year that you may not have otherwise heard of. It really is bothersome to me that people don't have many artists that they can claim they listen to for their artistry; it's seems more and more people, in maybe an off-shoot response to the huge void that is mostly substanceless mainstream music, either begin grasping for straws with those who do have some semblance of actual credibility with simultaneous success, or have ceased being music fans altogether, choosing to go the route of casual listening. You shouldn't be backed into a corner by corporations that see nothing but the bottom line. I'm not so self-important to think that I'm going to be your sole savior from that based on this thing, but hopefully it will spur you to look at other internet resources for music. That's really one of the only true ways out at this point, and whether or not you like all that I have listed below, at the very least do some research of your own. Read online music sites, go to music message boards, go to a local record store and ask a clerk, hell, even watch Subterranean on MTV2. Whatever. Just don't be a sheep. Okay, end rant.

(blogger.com/blogspot is being a bitch and I wasn't able to format this the way I wanted, so it doesn't look all that pretty. Fucking blogspot.)

The Not Top 10.

25. Merzbow - Sphere - the godfather of noise "music" introduces me to his craft. Use headphones and possibly be high.

24. The National - Alligator - pure indie-rock, but passionately so. Possibly some of the best blatantly heart-on-sleeve lyrics I've ever heard.

23. The Joggers - With A Cape And A Cane - the guitar album of the year.

22. Broadcast - Tender Buttons - warm psychadelia-evoking female vocals meet the cold steel of electronic blips and bloops.

21. Boris - Akuma No Uta - Japanese band has, seeing our lack of rock, learned to rock better than we can.

20. Dwight Trible (& The Life-Force Trio) - Love Is the Answer - soulful warm-voiced Jazz singer employs various hip-hop production luminaries with great results.

19. Aoki Takamasa & Tujiko Noriko - 28 - "J-Pop" singer teams up with Japanese ambient-IDM genius.

18. (Smog) - A River Ain't Too Much To Love - massively underrated singer-songwriter innovates while remaining consistent after over 10 years of output.

17. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem - overweight aging hipster/production genius finally makes a statement in album form, complete with the singles that created all the hype.

16. Oneida - The Wedding - overlooked indie trio makes own instruments, produces big, wonderful, dreamy chaos.

15. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods - the best all-girl band still making music makes their best music. Loud and more ballsy than their rock peers with actual anatomical balls.

14. Russian Futurists - Our Thickness - understated Canadian electronic group makes infectiously catchy album... understatedly.

13. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene - huge Canadian indie-rock supergroup takes their sound to the farthest reaches of supergroupness, absolutely massacre sophomore album curse.

12. Akron/Family - Akron/Family - "freak-folk" meets electronic meets wonderful melody.

11. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm - the album that all other bands with this sound have been trying to make is finally made.

Top 10


Jens Lekman - Oh, You're So Silent Jens

Jens Lekman is a very strange man. His singing is marked by a distinctive Swedish accent, producing an equally indistinctive awkwardness in his lyrical delivery. He sings of heartache, lack of heartache; really mostly mundane things, sort of middle-class anthems with subject matter as simple yet profound as meeting girls in European Iraqi war protests. He's obsessed with his own little peculiar benign world-view, championing his own heroes and points of interest (see his songs about Rocky Dennis, the man the 80's movie Mask is based upon). His rhyme schemes are sometimes a little abrasively elementary, jutting out like a big, skinny, pale Jens Lekman elbow. Yes, he's emotive; so much so that he openly laments not having been (supposedly) laid in a year on his website. If you think I'm painting a picture of a rather pathetic figure, I am. He sort of is.

In underground "indie" music you run into a good deal of "white boy ennui." It's either strikingly blatant, such as in "twee" indie-pop music (really, really cloying stuff, like emo x 2 million), or, more often than not, masked under a few not-so-well constructed layers of pretension. Jens Lekman employs neither of these precedents, he is simply Jens Lekman. It's arguable, in my opinion, that he's one of the few artists bringing some credibility to a whole slew of whiny white boys, most of whom have packaged their emotional tripe into shiny little music videos and thrown on a layer of mascara for good, maximum emotional measure. It's annoying because these guys *really* have nothing to whine about, they're doing it in a direct appeal to those who are naive enough to think that they do. I don't want to pigeonhole Jens, however, into belonging to this rather distasteful trend, because he doesn't even really whine. His songs have some "aw, shucks" content, sure, but it comes across as entirely genuine. Most of the time, really, he's just describing to you how bewildered he is by life and all of its strangeness, especially in the face of his own burdgeoning adulthood. The result is a wonderful, weird, sing-songy album that, thankfully, even most indie-pop "afficiandos" are recognizing as wonderful.

Listen to (click to download songs that have links): "Pocketful Of Money", "Maple Leaves"


Miss Alex White - Miss Alex White & The Red Orchestra

Miss Alex White was the biggest surprise for me this past year, if only because she came out of absolutely nowhere. Very few of even the most underground music circles were even namedropping her. I acknowledge, therefore, that there's a danger to my placing her so high on this list, because she is, really, a complete unknown at this point. What fanfare she *is* getting is decidedly miniscule, and still centers around her hometown Chicagoan fanbase. The danger I'm referring to, then, is that maybe this *isn't* that great, and the few of us enamored with her now are just caught up in some feverish excitement of discovery. The truth is I really don't care.

Miss Alex White (and her Red Orchestra) emerge from the decidedly still nubile genre of "garage punk", which is a fucking stupid genre name. It's a classification that accurately describes the record's muffled quality, like it's being processed through tin cans or something, but, in my opinion, also is a dismissive sort of term. It literally connotates that she's coming from inside some garage somewhere, an amateur not to be taken seriously. This is the sort of reaction you must shed yourself of when listening to her, but, thankfully, it's really not that difficult to do. This record is so fucking rockingly catchy, it's ridiculous. Her voice echoes belly-driven out of stacks of amps like a woman possessed. And her Orchestra, well, they aren't shabby either, backing a sound that is easily the most anthemic album of this past year in my opinion. There are artists who are attempting to re-create an instant, a long dead moment in the history of rock and roll's sound who are falling alarmingly short in comparison to this red-headed monster of a lady. I only hope others will share in my enthusiasm and spread the word.

Listen to (click to download songs with links): "Picture My Face", "On Time"


Vitalic - Ok, Cowboy

If you think about it, an alectronic artist being French by deafault is really the common American conception, whether it's spoken openly about or not. After all, electronic music has thrived as a European phenomenon in ways that American listeners have largely been unable to appreciate, and the stereotypes we associate with French people ("frogs", or, basically, images of strangeness, the polarized opposite of American way of life and culutre in the Western world) are perfect models onto which we can project our perception of electronic music as being weird and inaccessible. The truth is, however, that France is not the primary producer of the stuff reaching American ears, trumped by either other European sources or, more often than not, hailing from the good 'ol USA. There have been exceptions, but the French, largely, have played a minor role in the still very much undergroundish American electronic "scene." However, if Vitalic, or Pascal Arbez, is any indication of an upward trend, I think we can all abandon our cross-culutral estrangement for just a bit.

Ok, Cowboy howls from the depths of an electronic movement many thought abandoned. It pulsates, bombasts, samples, and squeels its way into your sense of rhythm in much the same way Daft Punk did with Discovery in 1997. I hate to make that comparison, since everyone seems to be doing it, but Vitalic does, indeed, sound like Daft Punk when they were a little more inspired and fresh (see this past year's blah Human After All - don't worry, not many other people realized they released an album, either). However, Vitalic's sound does not constitute pure imitation. He puts his own, wonderful spin on his progressive-dance forefathers' style. I think it's strenghth, really, is just that; it's not as confined to the boundaries of style that Daft Punk sometimes limit themselves to. The result is an album that, unlike recent Daft Punk outings, you are more than able to listen to from start to finish, rather than finding yourself drawn to only certain songs more often than others. It's a wonderful, danceable return to form for the house/progressive sub-genre that isn't being approached with the same skill by anybody else out there right now.

Listen to: "Wooo", "Trahison"


Matt Elliott - Drinking Songs

Drinking Songs is a snarling howl of a record; a true piece of underbelly. It breathes the steam rising from Parisian sewers in the dead of winter, drunk on rot gut, vomits all over itself, then collapses in an alleyway to smoke Pall Malls and weep. It fucked your mother. Sorry, no, it didn't do that, I just got too caught up in seedy imagery for a second, but you get the idea.

This is undoubtedly the most appropriately titled album I have on this list. Elliott paints a fantastic and, yes, depressing sonic approximation in a little over an hour of the cognitive shifts experienced in solitary drunkeness. The slow rise of intoxication first relaxes you, with a few low guitar notes, then, as the stuff collides with your limbic system, you become terrified. There are these horrifying choruses on this album that lend to its overall palpable atmosphere, like voices of the damned echoing your building sense of momentary drunken profundity; as if everything you now experiencing, in this dive of a bar, is the start of a cascade of horrible decisive events leading to the twilight of your existence. Have I scared you? Good. This isn't a "safe" record, it's difficult to listen to not only for its meandering length, but also just the uncomfortable affecting quality it has on you. It strains you to maintain emotional and reactionary honesty over its 65 sloping minutes. The beauty of it is its release; the end of the listening experience is a catharsis, a release of the foreboding emotions it incites. It's a harrowing listening experience, but it's so unique and artistically bold that it's undeniably interesting, and, I thought, really great.

Listen to: "What's Wrong", "What the Fuck Am I Doing On This Battlefield"


Terminal 11 - Illegal Nervous Habits

Among the promotional literature available for Terminal 11 that's online, there's a statement by some promotional guy at CockRockDisco, his label, which sounds like it was made on a 2am coke binge, with the following manic descriptors: "This guy Terminal 11 comes along and takes all that IDM music, breakcore, and whatever else (ed: ???) has been done in the last 4 years, completely changes it around, makes it -like- a billion times better (and faster), and then smacks you upside the head and says 'Duh.'" I've met one of these people before when my friend was still playing guitar for some Avril Lavigne copycat in LA (her name is the less 12 year old girl friendly "Tovah"), and they indeed do have these overly-casual mini speeches prepared at all times for a lot of their artists, just in case they meet you in a parking lot or something! (!!!!) This particular PR machine certainly doesn't deliver his lines the most eloquently, but his comment about Terminal 11's borrowing from many electronic sub-styles isn't entirely inaccurate.

IDM music has been decidedly in a rut for the past year or two. For the less familiar, IDM is short for the incredibly stupid sub-genre moniker (notice there are a lot of those on this list) "Intelligent Dance Music." What makes IDM "intelligent" is entirely unclear, much less what makes it danceable. It's not danceable. In fact it's so undanceable that it arguably is second only to "ambient" music in terms of electronic styles that suggest a need for careful headphone listening; a little bobbing of your head may come out of the experience, but it's nothing anybody would forgive you for playing at a house party. I'm digressing, though; the problem with IDM in recent years is the lack of ideas that many of its artists seem to find themselves runnng into, and the subsequent lack of enthusiasm from the listening public. They've all coped differently, with mixed results: Squarepusher now incorporates guitar-harmonics, Four Tet just seems to now make records that he thinks sound like what people expect from him, and even the grandaddy of them all, Aphex Twin, is nowhere to be found but under a different moniker (AFX) producing self-indulgent multiple disc sets. It's a little depressing, because many expected IDM music to sweep the "scene", finally allowing electronic music with some substance to rise out of its obscurity and stop only flirting with mainstream attention. So am I implying Terminal 11 will be the savior of IDM? Not necessarily, but he's certainly the closest thing I can think of, at least in the truest sense of what IDM is.

Illegal Nervous Habits is a big wall of fast-paced sound. It resists the boiled-down approach of other artists like Drop the Lime, who have largely abandoned the interspertion of samples for BPM oblivion, and even side-steps the honorable sound collages of labelmate Jason Forrest. In their stead, Terminal 11 (real name Mike Castaneda) shows the strength of his digital sequencing. It's a fucking insane experience, even for the non-musician, to try and discern what in the hell constitutes what you're listening to. The sound manages to not be abrasive, however, and is amazing enough to, at the very least, make one wonder why Castaneda's only website is a MySpace.com music profile. This is the same man who casually dimisses his craft as "Anger Management Thru Audio", but I think anything similar would just come across as too personal to Castaneda and therefore unaffecting. This isn't the case, and he's such a bright talent that he deserves far more recognition than he's receiving.

Listen to: "Adcar", "C'est What"


Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett

Sometimes I think I can be a little obssessive about certain things (namely all of this), and, well, I definitely am, but then I feel better about myself when I reflect on people like Aaron Funk. Aaron has been largely a quiet domino in the IDM/drill'n'bass community for a little over a half-decade, completely escaping the detection of many, many radar screens. Rather than focus his energy into singular projects, Funk countered the apathy he perceived with what seems like a creative bipolar fit. In the past five years there have been 223 seperate releases under the Venetian Snares name. That's an average of 45 releases of some sort a year, no less than 3 to 5 of which are usually full-length albums. This seems insane, and is. Moreover, it explains why, ironically, Funk may be experiencing such difficulty maintaining much of a fanbase - but, then again, that might be just how he likes it.

So what makes this, out of the wealth of his releases, a noteable record by Funk? It's hard to say, but two ideas come to mind: first of all, the sound of this record is just so much more focused than anything else, it seems, Funk has attempted. It has a seamless quality, a record Funk can finally claim has a sense of continuity which his other records, many times, lacked. The microscopic glue which holds together this effort, to come to the second idea, is the strings. The record is littered with big, bombastic cello, sharp violin and viola samples which Funk so craftfully employs against his usual cold whirlwind of electronic beats and squawks. It's a rather simple idea that no one, to my knowledge, has executed half as well as it is here. It is pleasing, arguably, also due to its simplicity, breaching the gap of Funk's obviously creatively vast resources to find some common ground. It is a wonderful, manic, and really, really listenable release that should not be ignored.

Listen to: "Hajnal", "Szerencsetlen"


Holopaw - Quit +/or Fight

Country-influenced music (for a lack of a better term music with "twang") has always been a thorn in my side. It's a component of too many musical styles I enjoy to be completely avoided, however, and so I occasionally have to take my medicine. Regardless, I still draw the line as much as possible, and my exclusions include, but are not limited to, Creedance Clearwater Revival, "Skynyrd", the Eagles, some portions of Steve Miller's career, etc. Generally, a lot of the stuff that's considered "classic rock." What's the source for my hatred? Well, it seems like it's most likely not *completely* arbitrary if you examine my heritage. My mother is a Southerner, from deep in the heart of Virginia, no less. Unlike her four other sisters, she fled her then very repressive (as opposed to today's regular-ish oppressive) homestead, abandoning also my emotionally vacant grandfather, and headed West for various dens of urban oblivion. She did this around my age now (her early 20's), and, quite frankly, was made the black sheep of the family for it. She was a rebel of sorts, really. So, in keeping with that rebellious spirit, she's made hints that she also began to listen to more "progressive" music of the day (Beatles, Joni Mitchell), and implies also that she rejected Country music and all of its off-shoots. However, it's not like she directly instilled in me any hatred for Southern music, so it must have been some sort of subconcious side-effect of her parenting. So you can imagine my surprise when I absolutely fell in love with as "twangy" a record as Holopaw's Quit +/or Fight.

Holopaw hail from Florida, a state which, while spiked with Cuban and Caribbean accents in its urban centers, still suffers from a humid blanket of Southern-ness elsewhere. To call their sound anywhere on the same level of Southern pride or showmanship as "CCR" or whomever would be stretching it, though, I admit. After all, their word-of-mouth is stemming almost exclusively from hipster congregations. However, it retains enough elements that could be considered "Southern" to make my "twang radar" initially steer me away. I was certainly wrong to do so. I've heard this album described as the most relaxing of all organically-produced music of this past year, and that would not be much of a stretch. Lead singer John Orth's vocals are simply angelic; hushed observational proclamations over the superb fingerpicking of guitarist Tom Reno create these perfect little lullabies that charm the living hell out of you. There are occasional breaks in the lull, however, with lyrical mentionings of pot smoke and cuss words, but the unpleasantries subside quickly enough to only make the record itself seem less saccharine. It's beauty in understatement that I can't think of being achieved with the same skill by any other band in recent years. Hopefully if you, too, are twang-resistant, you might also find some comfort in Holopaw's wonderful little oasis.

Listen to: "Found (Quit +/or Fight)", "Curious"


Xiu Xiu - La Foret

It seemed, at first, like it would be a show devoid of spectacle. Lined up outside of the Glasshouse in Pomona on a chilly winter night were a menagerie of scenesters. They all wore uniforms; there were the girls' jeans on the boys (scenester/hipster males really can only be described as 'boy' when dressed like this), random, gawdy, cut-together pieces of fabric constituting the skirts and jackets and whatever of the girls. The silence was only broken once, when a sulking misanthrope asked to bum a cigarette off of me. I obliged, and he said nothing additional except to ask me if I knew who Xiu Xiu were (maybe my lack of bangs confused him), to which I replied with something like, 'Well, yeah.' He nodded sullenly, turning away back toward the doors which had yet to be opened. Man, this is certainly depressing, I thought. Finally, this rather uncomfortable vigil was ended, and we all were allowed inside the Glasshouse's really gawdy and tattered insides. I was convinced that what I was about to see was going to be more theatrics than substance; the outlet of a man who is, possibly, certifiably insane, and, I assumed, pretentiously so. Maybe he would come out in a thong. Maybe he wouldn't play the show at all, and would just yell at us about Ian Curtis or how the Beatles sucked or something. In fact, I had so many assumptions that night, I really wonder in retrospect why I wanted to go. I was wrong to come with so much extraneous baggage.

Indeed, Jamie Stewart, the arguable sole person behind Xiu Xiu, is much more of a down-to-earth person, as the show proved, than you would expect from listening to his music. As he was setting up his equipment, for whatever reason, at a Xiu Xiu show, the sound man put on the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" over the PA. Stewart began to bob his head a bit as he set up a crate with 20+ help-desk bells on top of it, among other weird "instruments." I was lured in possibly at that very moment. The music is what really matters here, though, and my point in telling that story is to prove that Xiu Xiu should not be dismissed. This is an important point because, well, Xiu Xiu's music is easy to dismiss. Stewart sings of disturbing things delivered with an equally disturbing, intense vibrato which makes his delivery one of the more captivating in any genre. He's weird and awkward and fucked up and awkward, and, it's possible, there's nobody who conveys that assertion better (barring maybe one of Stewart's musical forefathers, the 70's art-rock group Suicide).

In the end it really comes down to personal taste and threshold of receptivity in terms of whether or not you will enjoy Stewart's intensity. However, I think there can be a case made against calling Stewart "pretentious." Pretentiousness implies a deliberate, self-absorbed effort to be different at all costs, with completely contrived results. Whether you enjoy the result or not, it's apparent from just watching the guy be so amiable on-stage only until he launched into a song that his music truly is an outlet for... something. It's difficult to say that you would like to occupy the same tortured mind space Stewart obviously withdraws into creatively, but the results are just absolutely joltingly weird and, in my opinion, awesome. This, as well as last year's Fabulous Muscles, have been Stewart's melding period, where he's finally found that perfect balance between the pop-electronic melodies he's only previously flirted with and his intense showmanship. These are his best releases, and La Foret is important if only because it continues the trend excellently.

Listen to: "Muppet Face", "Bog People"


Out Hud - Let Us Never Speak Of It Again

Dance music is sometimes hard to endorse for overly-contemplative, fervently anaylytical music fans. I suppose the logic is that "the beat" appeals to such a lowest common demoninator aspect of musical complexity (or, the argument goes, the lack thereof) that the overall worth of dance music is somehow compromised. It seems too easy, its release and satisfaction so immediate, that those concerned with bullshit labels such as their "cred" get a little uptight when it comes to anything that makes them feel like dancing. So, when a record like Out Hud's Let Us Never Speak Of It Again comes along, where beat teams up with sample so harmoniously, there is the same resistance present, but there also is something pretty funny if you stay in "the scene" for long enough; a *reluctant* nod of affection, even admiration. You see, in "the scene", sometimes albums slip through the cracks of uptight hipsters' over-analyzation, and are so undeniable that even hipsters must recognize them. However, in those cases, the recognition seems begrudged, like its an embarassment, and if the group/artist in question fails to deliver in their next effort, they will undoubtedly be slammed because, well, "there was never anything there to begin with, man." That seemed to be the overall reception to this, Out Hud's second effort, and everybody just needs to loosen the hell up, I say. Sometimes the best things come in the simplest of packages.

Out Hud spiked some interest three years ago with the mostly "instrumental" (no vocals) compositions found on their debut S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D.. That record seemed a little constrained, however, conforming to the emerging trends of its peers (other "dance-punk" offerings, such as those from !!!, two of the members of which comprise part of Out Hud). It therefore wasn't taken very seriously, an alternative for those too alarmed by what they saw as undue praise toward other "dance-punk" artists, specifically The Rapture. Three years have passed since then, and where S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. was the sound of Out Hud's late-night jam sessions and loose ideas, Let Us Never Speak Of It Again is an album of complete thoughts. The group's original, goofy elasticity remains, but organic instruments have largely and wisely been abandoned, replaced by some of the most symbiotic meetings of bouncy beats, jangly guitar samples, and synths put to recording. This is an important step for the already faltering dance-punk genre, because it exhibits a bow to the electronics that inspired the trend, and have always really dominated its soundscape. Out Hud realized that rock/punk song structure can be achieved through their cold computerized machinery as well if not better than just playing over some bleeps and bloops. The result also, consequently, exhibits what the dance-punkers have always offered the larger electronic genre; a fresh, fun, and catchy approach in contrast to many of the other genre's recent tendency to become lost in its own heady ideas. Guitar samples, spliced out, collide with handclap downbeats here, sounding a little, at times, like very, very early boombox-ish hip-hop production. It's such a bouncy-elastic, can't-get-this-song-out-of-my-head tour de force that as an album, in my opinion, it is instantly timeless. Listen now.

Listen to: "Old Nude", "It's For You"


Of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins

Kevin Barnes is the best kind of genius. Hiding himself behind first a collective, then a band, and now essentially just a moniker, he is a genius to be continually discovered; the quiet kid who has internalized hundreds upon hundreds of times the essentials of pop melody, and used his talents selflessly for the promotion of other musicians' greater good, not just his own. It has been a long time coming, but Barnes is finally, forced through circumstances, learning to stand on his own.

Of Montreal has been the perfect atmosphere for anonymity. Emerging in 1996 from the Elephant 6 collective, which has spawned such underground greats as Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel, the band seemed tremendously promising, especially in the then recent news of Olivia Tremor Control's disbandment. At the time, Kevin Barnes teamed up with a rag-tag group of musicians and produced three to four records' worth of big, sprawling, "indie Sgt. Pepper's"-like albums. They received a good deal of praise, but, upon retrospective listening, ultimately come across as Kevin Barnes records muddled in layered instrumentation, allowing his melody and vocals to shine through only when the ambitions of the other musicians did not get ahead of his vision. Moreover, they also failed to achieve 60's-ish epic imitation as well as their Elephant 6 peers did, resulting in efforts that were often written off as mediocre Olivia Tremor Control rehashes. This is where Barnes went wrong.

In 2003, fate finally pushed Kevin in a more solitary direction; Of Montreal's line-up, which had already been in a state of flux for 7 years, virtually ceased to be a line-up at all. Instead of abandoning the project he first started, Barnes recruited his wife, and only a *few* other musicians to produce 2004's wonderful first sign of true, unadulterated Kevin Barnes compositions, Satanic Panic In the Attic. Critics went absolutely nuts for the stuff, and with good reason; this was Barnes finally where he belonged, making simple pop tunes with some of the most unique yet effortless lyricism that prior Of Montreal efforts had only hinted at. However, Barnes isn't one to steal the show, and you can still *hear* his compromises in the studio; conceding a riff or an idea here, a layered vocal there, in favor of fielding the input of the people he was playing with.

Sunlandic Twins has liner notes which read, "Produced, arranged, composed, performed, engineered, and mixed by Prince Kevin Barnes." After finally fully taking the reins of his beast, this was Barnes' way of letting people know how absolutely uncomfortable he is with his singularity. He felt indulgent, like he was claiming he was some sort of multi-instrumentalist genius (Prince) just by stating the fact that he made this record *entirely* on his own, and while humility is a virtue, it's absolutely unnecessary in his case. It's not that Sunlandic Twins has *better* songs than Satanic Panic In the Attic, it's that it finally sounds like the boiled-down essence which has only sweetened Of Montreal efforts prior to it. This is unadulterated Kevin Barnes, his accidental pop opus that is finally revealing to the world just why he should be revered and respected. It reveals the true inner world of Barnes' creative space, one that is of wonder, melody, handclaps, rising synth solos, funky bass lines, and complete bewilderment. His previous strengths, apt lyrical reflections on love lost and gained in the face of life's tremendous complexities, finally truly collide with his simultaneous knack for hook and melody. It's a wonderful, wonderful, pristine album of pop music created by one of its finest, and, ultimately, completely overlooked troubadours.

At times, one must finally realize what his strengths and weaknesses truly are, and when to seek support in others for that which is lacking. Barnes has finally realized that, as a composer and performer, he truly needs no one else. It's not about being selfish or narcissistic, it's about recognition of your own talents, and sharing those talents with others. It is in his sharing with an audience, not his conceding to outside pressures, that Barnes truly shines as a musician, and Sunlandic Twins is hopefully only the start of his gifts. It is partially because Barnes is finally coming into his own and *still* not receiving the recognition he deserves that I consider this the #1 release of 2005. If Kevin Barnes wants to remain in a shroud of faces safely in the background, hopefully I and others will continue to urge him toward the spotlight.

Listen to: "The Party's Crashing Us", "So Begins Our Alabee"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Music to fall asleep/study to

If you know me, I'm not the most studious individual ever (shut up, asshole). However, when I do, living with three other dudes can make for a need to give myself something to if, in a panic about my "future" or whatever, I actually decide to study. They've said classical music can aid in this sort of thing, even boost (debatedly) cognitive performance/memory retention, but I'd also add ambient music into the brain-music equation. The dreamy understatement that underlies ambient music can make studying much more enjoyable and concentrated with a pair of headphones thrown on, in my opinion. It's relaxing enough that, I imagine, you could fall asleep with it too, if you'd like, and has helped me a few times in relaxing for a good 19 hour sleep, also. Lol @ self-deprecation. Anyway here's some albums you should check out if you'd like to test my assertion, as well as a few non-ambient pieces that I think also suit studying/relaxing pretty well:

Anything by Stars Of the Lid

The Dead Texan - The Dead Texan

Anything by Eluvium

F├╝rsaxa - Lepidoptera

Anything by Marsen Jules

Secede - Tryshasla

Anything by Colleen


Stars Of the Lid - Austin, TX Mental Hospital, Pt. 1 (from The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of the Lid)

Eluvium - Cast On the Cast/Light Cloud (from Talk Amongst the Trees)

(download instructions: right-click "Copy Link Location" in Firefox, or right-click "Copy Shortcut" in Internet Explorer, paste onto URL/address bar and change "hzzp" to "http", press enter, follow instructions for download. To extract after download you need a program called WinRAR, which you can install quickly by clicking this link. If you still can't figure out how to download and listen to these files leave a comment for this entry and your Instant Messager name or e-mail address, and I will contact you. Keep in mind that if you are looking at an old entry, YouSendIt links like these expire after a given amount of time or a large amount of downloads, so the files may no longer be available. Sorry.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mark Kozelek = God

Steve Villa and I went to a show in LA on this past Saturday to see Mark Kozelek perform solo, and it couldn't have been more wonderful. For those not "in the know", Mark is the former lead singer of Red House Painters and the current of Sun Kil Moon, and you may or may not have heard the Red House Painters track "Have You Forgotten" on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack from some years back. If you didn't hear that then he was also in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous as the groupie-loving bassist. Anyway he's one of the better singer-songwriters still alive and undeservedly only seems to have a cult following (although a devout one). Here are a few samples:

Red House Painters - Smokey (from 2001's Old Ramon)

Sun Kil Moon - Neverending Math Equation (Modest Mouse cover from 2005's Tiny Cities, a collection of MM covers)

(download instructions: right-click "Copy Link Location" in Firefox, or right-click "Copy Shortcut" in Internet Explorer, paste onto URL/address bar and change "hzzp" to "http", press enter, follow instructions for download. To extract after download you need a program called WinRAR, which you can install quickly by clicking this link. If you still can't figure out how to download and listen to these files leave a comment for this entry and your Instant Messager name or e-mail address, and I will contact you. Keep in mind that if you are looking at an old entry, YouSendIt links like these expire after a given amount of time or a large amount of downloads, so the files may no longer be available. Sorry.)